THOMSON – When Buck's Barn went out of business in fall 2011, golfers near and far shed a tear for the popular resort, and the little village absorbed another economic body blow.
Things are looking up, though. Not only is the opening of Thomson prison finally in sight, but the golf landmark has been bought by local boys Ryan Eissens and Zac Vandendooren.
The Thomson natives plan to restore the course to its former glory, as well as fix up the hotel and add a bar.
They hope to have the hotel and bar side of Sand Burr Run Golf Course and Hotel open by mid-May, and to have the golf course, which they must demolish and rebuild "from scratch," ready for play in August, said Zack Swanson, the resort's general manager.
It will be a semi-private course, with some membership fees charged, but the public will be able to play golf there.
Eissens, Vandendooren and a silent partner paid $323,000 for the property, which does not include the restaurant on the parcel next door; that site still is for sale.
It also didn't include all 18 holes – they hope to negotiate with a Mount Carroll landowner who owns the 36-acre parcel on which five holes remain, Swanson said.
The original 9-hole course, built in 1976, is theirs, though, and that's what they're opening with. There also is a driving range and a practice green.
Swanson, 26, a Rockford native, is moving from Savanna to live onsite. They've already got a staff of a half-dozen, and likely will be hiring four or five more people, he said.
Growing up in Thomson, Eissens and Vandendooren have a sentimental attachment to the former Lynwood Lynks, as the course was known – they cut their golfing teeth there.
The name Sand Burr, in fact, hearkens back to the Sand Burr Tournament, a tradition for Buck's regulars, Swanson said.
Now Eissens, 36, owns his own contracting business, Eissens Construction, and Vandendooren, 26 next month, works for Pioneer Seed in Erie.
Vandendooren got his first job working at the restaurant at Buck's Barn when he was only 13. He grew up in the neighborhood, and now owns a house there.
Fixing the place up is a labor of love for him.
"I just didn't want to see it empty anymore," he said, adding that he's looking forward to once again hearing people "outside, having fun."
The partners aren't looking to get rich, either, Vandendooren said.
"If we can just get the place to pay the bills," that will be enough, he said.
Sand Burr Run Golf Course and Resort
Holes: 9 for now, hoping for 18 in the future
Includes: Practice green and driving range
Lung Card: No
Pro shop: Yes, but just basics for now – balls, tees, gloves
Lessons: Not yet
Pro on site: No
Phone number: Available soon – check Facebook
The Sand Burr Hotel
49 rooms: 42 regular rooms, seven king suites with kitchenettes
Amenities: Wi-Fi and cable TV
Pool, hot tub: No more; replaced by bar and restrooms
The Sand Trap
Video gaming machines
Two 60-inch TVs
Live entertainment occasionally
5020 state Route 84, about 3 miles north of Thomson